Key Appropriations Hearing for National Nuclear Security Administration

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Publication date: 
27 May 2009


A central theme in last week’s House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is the importance of the Nuclear Posture Review that will be sent to Congress in early 2010. There was agreement on both sides of the witness table that this report, on which work started last month, will play a central role in defining NNSA’s activities and its budget for the next five to ten years.

Chairman Peter Visclosky (D-IN) opened the May 21 hearing by describing a changing threat environment and the importance of the forthcoming Nuclear Posture Review:

“The national security requirements for a 21st century nuclear force, in a threat environment driven by smaller but very serious multiple threats, are very different from the national security requirements of our legacy nuclear force, which was driven by the bipolar environment of the Cold War. We need to transition to a 21st century force as soon as is economically and technically possible. I urge the Administration to focus on this transition with a clean-sheet approach, free of reflexive ties to the policies of the past. We are waiting for the Nuclear Posture Review to set the framework of this transition.”

The Nuclear Posture Review was mandated in the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2008, and will set the policies for nuclear deterrence, strategy, and force posture for up to ten years. The complete text of Section 1070, Revised Nuclear Posture Review, of this legislation is included at the end of this FYI.

The Obama Administration requested essentially flat funding for NNSA’s Weapons Programs pending the Nuclear Posture Review, an FY 2010 budget document explaining it as “a continuation of current capabilities, pending upcoming strategic nuclear policy decisions.” Chairman Visclosky supports this approach “in order not to risk the taxpayers’ money on a decision that may be reversed within less than a year. . . . This is a fiscally responsible and prudent strategy; I commend you for it.” Ranking Member Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) disagreed, calling it “a treading water program” that could have “significant national security implications.” He told NNSA Administrator Thomas D’Agostino “I am concerned for what you have proposed.”

D’Agostino submitted 15 pages of testimony, with additional budget tables. He noted President Obama’s recent trip to Prague and “his vision of a world without nuclear weapons.” “To this end, the United States will take concrete steps towards achieving such a world by reducing the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy and urging others to do the same. Until that ultimate goal is achieved, however, the United States will maintain nuclear forces sufficient to deter any adversary, and guarantee that defense to our allies.”He later testified, “NNSA will continue to pursue a modern more flexible Nuclear Security Enterprise that is significantly smaller than the Cold War complex, but is able to address a variety of stockpile scenarios.”D’Agostino predicted that by 2012 the stockpile will be a quarter of its size at the end of the Cold War.

Frelinghuysen remained skeptical, saying “can you convince us” that the funding request will be sufficient. Brig. General Garrett Harencak of NNSA assured him that the FY 2010 request would both protect science and be very aggressive in maintaining the U.S. capability, saying of the stockpile that “it is reliable, it is safe, it is secure . . . this budget guarantees it.”

Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN) asked a series of questions about Oak Ridge’s aging Y-12 nuclear manufacturing facility, urging that it not be neglected. D’Agostino replied that NNSA will work to prevent conditions at this facility from getting worse while awaiting the Nuclear Posture Review. He said the projected budgets beyond FY 2010 will change after the review is completed. D’Agostino explained that the retention of key employees at Y-12 is a major focus; Wamp predicted that the budget request for Y-12's Uranium Processing Facility is not enough to do so. In a later exchange, Rep. Lincoln Davis (D-TN) asked about the status of a replacement building for this facility, scheduled for 2018. D’Agostino acknowledged that the condition of the building is not good, but added “I do believe the building is safe now.” NNSA is doing planning on this facility before design work gets underway. He said the agency is moving deliberately, not wanting to presume the outcome of the Nuclear Posture Review. Harencak agreed that NNSA has “got to give them [employees] a better facility.” Concern was again expressed about the possible loss of employees. D’Agostino stressed the need for having a better handle on future production requirements and the role that the Los Alamos National Laboratory may play. He acknowledged a “tough choice ahead for the [Obama] Administration.”

Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA), noting that no work will occur on a Reliable Replacement Warhead, asked about the role of the National Ignition Facility and the extremely important issue of warhead reliability. D’Agostino characterized this facility as “critical” in understanding very specific classified problems. He assured Calvert that the funding requested for the facility was sufficient. Questions from other committee members touched on security improvements at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, pension liabilities, a MOX facility, and a new pit production facility.

Chairman Visclosky gave no indication of how his subcommittee would respond to the FY 2010 NNSA budget request beyond saying the delay in capital improvement projects to enable NNSA to focus on workforce retention was “a fiscally responsible and prudent strategy.” Attention seemed to be focused more on the forthcoming Nuclear Posture Review and how it will inform next year’s budget request and the congressional response to it. On this, Visclosky was quite clear, telling the witnesses that he wants “texture” in the report. “I think that’s the big issue,” he said. D’Agostino agreed, saying it should not be a “coffee table book,” but one with “as much detail as possible.” NNSA has identified 28 questions that it wants to answer in the review. D’Agostino predicted it would be “a bit of a time crunch” to complete this work in time for the FY 2011 budget submission.

Visclosky’s opening statement is unambiguous in what his subcommittee is seeking: “ . . . a clear statement of our nuclear strategy, a detailed description of the future stockpile plans to serve that strategy, and a complex transformation plan to support that stockpile. Let me be very clear that the [Appropriations] Committee’s position is not merely that a document labeled Nuclear Posture Review by filed; our position is that these three requirements must be met, whether in the Review or elsewhere. I continue to strongly urge that this be done.”

To which should be added a point that the chairman made when talking to Administrator D’Agostino: “we are at a tipping point in looking ahead.”


P.L. 110-181, National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2008


“(a) REQUIREMENT FOR COMPREHENSIVE REVIEW. – In order to clarify United States nuclear deterrence policy and strategy for the near term, the Secretary of Defense shall conduct a comprehensive review of the nuclear posture of the United States for the next 5 to 10 years. The Secretary shall conduct the review in consultation with the Secretary of Energy and the Secretary of State.

“(b) ELEMENTS OF REVIEW. – The nuclear posture review shall include the following elements:

 (1) The role of nuclear forces in United States military strategy, planning, and programming.

 (2) The policy requirements and objectives for the United States to maintain a safe, reliable, and credible nuclear deterrence posture.

 (3) The relationship among United States nuclear deterrence policy, targeting strategy, and arms control objectives.

 (4) The role that missile defense capabilities and conventional strike forces play in determining the role and size of nuclear forces.

 (5) The levels and composition of the nuclear delivery systems that will be required for implementing the United States national and military strategy, including any plans for replacing or modifying existing systems.

 (6) The nuclear weapons complex that will be required for implementing the United States national and military strategy, including any plans to modernize or modify the complex.

 (7) The active and inactive nuclear weapons stockpile that will be required for implementing the United States national and military strategy, including any plans for replacing or modifying warheads.

“(c) REPORT TO CONGRESS. – The Secretary of Defense shall submit to Congress, in unclassified and classified forms as necessary, a report on the results of the nuclear posture review conducted under this section. The report shall be submitted concurrently with the quadrennial defense review required to be submitted under section 118 of title 10, United States Code, in 2009.

“(d) SENSE OF CONGRESS. – It is the sense of Congress that the nuclear posture review conducted under this section should be used as a basis for establishing future United States arms control objectives and negotiating positions.”